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The Tulsa Race Riot is one of the most shameful events in all of American history and as we know, that’s a high bar to meet. That event took place 95 years ago today. Amazingly, an account of this event written by the father of the legendary African-American historian John Hope Franklin, who was a leading black lawyer in Tulsa at the time, was recently discovered.

“I could see planes circling in mid-air. They grew in number and hummed, darted and dipped low. I could hear something like hail falling upon the top of my office building. Down East Archer, I saw the old Mid-Way hotel on fire, burning from its top, and then another and another and another building began to burn from their top,” wrote Buck Colbert Franklin (1879-1960).

The Oklahoma lawyer, father of famed African-American historian John Hope Franklin (1915-2009), was describing the attack by hundreds of whites on the thriving black neighborhood known as Greenwood in the booming oil town. “Lurid flames roared and belched and licked their forked tongues into the air. Smoke ascended the sky in thick, black volumes and amid it all, the planes—now a dozen or more in number—still hummed and darted here and there with the agility of natural birds of the air.”

Franklin writes that he left his law office, locked the door, and descended to the foot of the steps.

“The side-walks were literally covered with burning turpentine balls. I knew all too well where they came from, and I knew all too well why every burning building first caught from the top,” he continues. “I paused and waited for an opportune time to escape. ‘Where oh where is our splendid fire department with its half dozen stations?’ I asked myself. ‘Is the city in conspiracy with the mob?’”

The Tulsa Race Riot needs to be a much more central event to our national history. A national park site would be a good place to start, but given that the city of Tulsa is pretty much unwilling to deal with this event, that’s unlikely to happen soon. The discovery of this manuscript may help.

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  • howard

    you have to admire the honesty of the caption on the photo.

    as it happens, i once had the honor, about 20+ years ago, of attending a durham bulls ball game with franklin: what a terrific man he was.

    • Of course you did.

      • howard

        I’m a very lucky guy.

  • jim, some guy in iowa

    nothing seems to enrage your typical American more than the sight of someone else getting ahead

    • CP

      At least part of the blame for that goes for our modern ethos of “if you’re not first, you’re last.” Lots of people believe that but aren’t actually first, so they need to believe that the only reason they’re not first is because someone’s rigging the system. In favor of… These People, obviously.

    • pianomover

      Add the Osage Indian murders to this narrative and Oklahoma seems like a wonderful place to make a home.

  • I have to wonder if history will repeat itself if Trump manages to pull off the election. I can see the next 4-5 months resembling something of a low grade civil war.

    • Snarki, child of Loki

      I think such violence is more likely to be the result of a Trump loss.

  • ajay

    Possibly the first operational use of area firebombing against a civilian target. The German Army was planning a firebombing campaign against London (using the Elektron bombs which they later used in 1940), but the war ended before it went into operation. And, of course, the first air bombing attack against the US.

    • Hogan

      Beats out Blair Mountain by three months.

      • busker type

        I was thinking about the timing in relation to Blair Mountain too…

        but just to be pedantic for a moment, the bombing on Blair Mountain wasn’t firebombing and it wasn’t (in most senses) a civilian target.

        • Hogan

          It was, however, an air bombing attack against the US.

    • Thom

      Less than a year later, the government of Jan Smuts used airpower (and military violence in general) to put down a general strike and rebellion by white mineworkers in Johannesburg (the Rand Revolt), South Africa. White miners were seeking protection of skilled positions for white workers against erosion of this by mining firms hoping to pay a lower wage to skilled African miners. The upshot was the election of a white labor government that sought to protect and extend the color bar in employment.

      • galanx

        Under the famous slogan “Workers of the World Unite for a White South Africa”.

    • vic rattlehead

      Sweet land of liberty.

  • sylvainsylvain

    My town. My home.

    There are no surviving newspaper accounts of the Tulsa Race Riots or their immediate aftermath, as far as I’m aware.

    At some point, Tulsans became ashamed (or if not ashamed, at least worried about what others might think; Okies have always had a bit of an inferiority complex) and tried to hide the evidence as best they could.

    • BiloSagdiyev

      Yes, I’ve heard that only in the past generation has this been discussed openly by either side.

      Conversely, the white supremacist coup in Wilmington, NC, was held up as a model throughout the Southeast, to show what could be done.

    • PhoenixRising

      As it happens, one of my workout buddies is a 74yo descendant of the young men (his father and uncle) who believed they sparked the riot by failing to get out of an elevator at a department store to yield to a white woman.

      He was the first AA elected to the OK state legislature after he and 2 friends who were the top of Tulsa’s colored schools integrated OU…in what was then the sundown town of Norman, OK.

      This man, whose fireside accounting of this act of war against people of color will go when he does, retired to Albuquerque decades ago. He was tired.

      • Schadenboner

        Is StoryCorps not a thing in Albuquerque?

    • DrDick

      I grew up just north of there in Bartlesville in the 50s and 60s and never even knew about it until I was in grad school. Sadly, after considerable improvement in race relations in the 1970s, it seems to have gone back to this time.

      • dckolb

        I grew up in Tulsa and was part of the first voluntary integration program at Booker T. Washington HS ’73-’76. The bus I rode my first year went right through the Greenwood neighborhood and I’d never heard of this until about 15 or 20 years ago.

    • rea

      There is a museum, named after John Hope Franklin:

      http://www.jhfcenter.org/contact-us/

  • I think this would be a good use of virtual or augmented reality. Build a virtual model of Tulsa before the riots (and after) from all the information available. Let people walk around the “Black Wall Street” Let people see the houses and businesses and neighborhoods that were burned. Let people see what was lost. Let people see the burned ruins. That way there could be a national park without moving one brick of what exists there now.

    • I think this would be a good use of virtual or augmented reality. Build a virtual model of Tulsa before the riots (and after) from all the information available. Let people walk around the “Black Wall Street” Let people see the houses and businesses and neighborhoods that were burned. Let people see what was lost. Let people see the burned ruins. That way there could be a national park without moving one brick of what exists there now.

      That’s a great idea. But…you just know that modders would soon hack together a further-augmented version of this as a Racial Realism First-Person Shooter (with added turpentine!).

  • JustRuss

    Seems like this would make for one hell of a good movie. Of course, the usual suspects would whine about how it only told “one side” of the story, but screw them.

    • rm

      I know that one of the problems with telling the Wilmington story, and I would assume it’s the same in Tulsa, is that if you use the real names of the white leaders perpetrating the massacre, you are offending many present day leading citizens, their descendants.

      • Snarki, child of Loki

        “you are offending many present day leading citizens, their descendants.”

        Well, they should have picked better parents, amirite? [standard GOP line]

    • cpinva

      “Of course, the usual suspects would whine about how it only told “one side” of the story, but screw them.”

      there is only “one side” worth using film on to tell, the other side is the wrong, so they can go take a flying fuck at a rolling donut.

  • DAS

    B.C. Franklin (the attorney quoted in the original post) also was involved in thwarting an attempt to prevent the reconstruction of Greenwood (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tulsa_race_riot#Attempt_to_prevent_reconstruction_of_Greenwood). If the plan proposed by the Tulsa Real Estate Exchange were actually implemented, it would have meant that an African-American neighborhood would have been re-developed as a commercial/industrial district, which would have made the riot an awfully fortuitous event for the people profiting off of converting a residential neighborhood into a commercial/industrial district. Has anyone looked into how, shall we say, convenient that riot almost was for Tulsa’s elites?

    I also find this — https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tulsa_race_riot#Other_whites — interesting. The riots included attacks on middle class families that dared to have (African-American) servants. I wonder if wealthy families with African-American servants were similarly attacked? Hmmm …

  • gratuitous

    Aw geez, another stop on the never-ending Obama Apology Tour! Coming soon to a Fox News outlet near you.

    Don’t roll your eyes; you know it’s coming.

  • Troll comment deleted

    Troll comment deleted

    • Oh for fucks sake.

      • What I don’t get about these stupid trolls is why they keep trying since they are routinely rebanned in 5 minutes.

  • It wasn’t a riot, it was state sponsored terrorism.

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